Invisible Disability in Coalmining Communities
Why was it so difficult for mineworkers and their families to get compensation for illness and disabilities caused by their work? The modern category of disability has been linked (especially by disabled activists) to industrialization and the needs of the labour market. However, historians have challenged this ‘industrialization thesis’ by providing evidence of the ubiquity and visibility of disability in British mining communities. Yet there was a significant hierarchy of disability in the coalmining compensation context. Everyday experiences of breathlessness were not categorised or recorded in the same way that accidents leading to amputations were. The same holds true for disability/illnesses that were fluctuating, progressive, actively concealed (potentially with the use of hidden prosthesis), stigmatised (such as psychological disability) or associated with malingering (such as miner’s nystagmus). These kinds of experiences were only visible in exceptional cases, and it is less clear that they were either accepted or normalized. In this talk, Coreen McGuire shows how such contested compensation cases reveal hidden disability managed through networks of friends, family, and community.
Lecturer (Twentieth-Century British History)
Coreen McGuire is Lecturer in Twentieth-Century British History at Durham University and author of Measuring Difference, Numbering Normal: Setting the Standards for Disability in the Interwar Period, published by Manchester University Press in 2020